Right hand tone production :
Techniques and more on Tonus and Détaché
( From an email lesson / The student kindly consented to having this page published )

The student sends in some questions about this lesson

The student sent in a .wav file ( a brief recording of his étude ) : The best time to send this ( 1 MB in file size ) is on weekends ( Saturday and Sunday ) only, as there are cheaper connection rates on those days.

This essay constitutes my hardest attempt at describing and expressing the most intricate and complex mechanism of all violin playing : the generation of a singing tone. About the détaché study n.1 : The notes themselves present no problem to you as far as understanding and reading goes , but your needs are on a completely different aspect. As you rightly hint, the right arm needs to be developed, and refined before achieving a sound of superior quality, and this is why, though the studies appear straight forward from an intellectual point of view, they still need working on. Therefore it is important you follow my instructions as closely as possible, making no deviations nor taking liberties of your own ( for the moment ! )

Firstly : Practice this etude playing each note twice. i.e.. a down and an up bow for each note. Confine the bow exactly to the middle, using about 40 - 50 % of the bow length, almost entirely with the forearm. Practice very slowly ( quarter note = 60 MM ) . So you play two eighth notes in a metronome beat. All your right hand apparatus ( which includes wrist, knuckles, forearm and fingers and bow contact point and weight and speed ) should be assembled and controlled at this speed. Only after a correct and accurate functioning of the right arm should you step the tempo up to 70 and later 80+.

About the bowing in more detail : Your contact point should be half way between bridge and fingerboard. Your weight on the string is far too high ; you need a much lighter bow : about 35% of your present pressure. In order to activate and stimulate the right hand in producing a beautiful singing tone, you must use it more than the left ( which is why the note is played twice and played slowly ). Also what must be present is a correct wrist adherence action, which you will soon discover is very much connected with the forearm and hand in producing adherence. The string is set in vibration through an adherence or friction of the bow on the strings. Your right hand arm and hand must generate a "friction" mechanism within itself. At the moment there is a faulty and excessive friction caused by too much bow weight ( which harms the A and E string tone more noticeably than the D and G string tones ). At the moment using more bow would apparently help this, but only momentarily. It is important you confine the bow to the middle portion only, yet search for and subsequently find a healthy dosage of both weight and wrist-generated friction.

Right hand components : The exactness and precision of the right hand mechanism is easy to illustrate but very hard to describe in words. But this is an attempt : The 3 components in détaché are forearm / hand / fingers. all 3 must be active accumulating sound, and conscious of the continuous feeling of friction. On the down bow : the thumb and first 2 fingers bend, while the knuckles flatten, and the wrist lowers, as the forearm travels. All these movements occur simultaneously in a tiny ( almost imperceptible ) quantity, but exactly the quantity needed to produce the required friction for a positive tone. Presently your pressure is excessive because one of these components is locked / blocked, and an insensitive and damaging friction is being produced. The problem is twofold in that we need the right type of friction - and we need to diminish the amount of friction. We need to diminish to improve the freedom of string vibrations, though we still need to talk about, and clarify this term friction, because it IS that very word ( friction ) which is the key to the whole problem of tone production.

To return to our right hand mechanism : the intricacy of the movements has been touched upon, and this collection, and fusion of movements must be performed with a slight reluctance or resistance throughout the movement. This reluctance of the muscles and hand to shape itself into a collected or closed shape is the very same feeling and mechanism as the friction of bow on string. The connection between the bow / string friction, and the hand / arm friction must be so close as to feel one and the same phenomena. Soon, as this friction is incorporated into the détaché stroke, it will become apparent that it is possible to vary the exact dosage and concentration of friction ( translate sound or tone ! ). Therefore "sound" is in the right hand. Having acquired a healthy and positive tone gathering mechanism in the right hand , one feels a tremendous magical sense of power and possessiveness in the hand. For all the left hand techniques and tricks violin playing and sound generation will always depend on the deftness and experience of the right hand.

Working together : In a right hand all the muscles and components of the arm must be functioning in a healthy and positive way. The various components must all function independently of each other, yet in conjunction, adding their combined power of friction, or sound accumulation together. The first 3 fingers ( thumb + 1 & 2 ) curling and grouping is called finger-flex. The opposite on the up bow is a GRADUAL straightening or releasing of tension in the fingers. This too is a reluctant movement, which produces friction due to this slow release. The hand lowering ( which also contains a horizontal wrist component ) is called wrist-bending ( the wrist is none other than the angle produced between hand and forearm ). Now the wrist is remarkable in that it can flex or bend both horizontally and vertically, and in any combination of the two. It is a very versatile joint ! The action involved in violin playing involves both directions, hardly ever just a pore movement in the one direction. The 3rd component is called forearm movement, and is produced by the movement of the forearm, pivoted on a stationary elbow, and moving thanks to the wrist-bending discussed earlier.

Above : Finger-flex : The left photo has slightly elongated fingers and thumb and the knuckles protrude slightly : Note very carefully how in the right photo the thumb and fingers are slightly more curved - they have therefore accumulated sound during the down bow - Below another view from the side of the photo on the right. Note how the knuckles are flatter, and the thumb is closer to the base of the first finger.

My experience in Practice : Now the fine-tuning of all these components is the job of a great teacher who has knowledge of the St. Petersburg school. Other Russian schools may also develop and deal with this aspect, but not all will deal with it in the same way. The Moscow school promotes a more generous, broader forearm, while the St. Petersburg favours a more concentrated alla corda. The quantity of bow used in détaché in comparing both schools is almost extreme. Now, should you start worrying about losing out on this incredibly important "heart" of violin playing, let me point out that the VAST majority of teachers never ever touch upon this subject. Most will appreciate that a superior style of détaché can be learned, and one comes across several pupils who have obviously been through détaché coaching, ( sometimes early on in their learning ) , but few teachers have the time, energy, will, patience, pay, talented child, or even the knowledge to be able to set-up and refine a pupils' détaché. My encounter and mastery in the first stage of détaché took 6 months of two 6 hour lessons a week. One lesson I would come back only to have exaggerated the wrist bending - then the teacher would tell me to reduce the wrist action, but maybe use more finger action. Each lesson the teacher would shape and mould my bowing like a sculptor, and I would go away sometimes having deviated quite a lot from the original intentions of the teacher. Sometimes the more I practised, the more I would deviate from the prescribed indications.

Above : The wrist has much versatility in movement : Here is illustrated just the horizontal flexibility , and the picture on the right shows how the wrist can bend , leaving the inner wrist pointing at our nose. This is important when approaching the heel, and indeed when playing at the heel

Even bowing : The material for studying and applying détaché is études. détaché involves two notes : one down the other up. Both must be of identical sonority and adherence. It is common to accumulate and hold the sound better and more substantially on the down bow than on the up bow. In other words, détaché is usually erroneously played with an accented down and a weak up bow. The length of the up bow, and the attention to string adherence must be increased, therefore, on the up bow.

Common errors : There are many common errors when playing détaché : playing at the tip, with an elbow which follows the bow, and moves in tandem is a terrible defect. This causes the forearm not to open out, and the elbow ( the angle between forearm and upper arm ) stays at a right angle. Obviously this looks, and is, rigid ! Another problem is usually some locking of the thumb. The thumb must never be applied to the stick insensitively in a straight angle : it must always be bent, and always in motion, adhering to the stick with some degree of bend. The thumb has a vital role ( together with the first 2 fingers ) in accumulating détaché. The 3rd and 4th fingers are best left almost passive, as they have more important roles during chords and heel playing. Détaché may be practised with these last 2 fingers off the stick, though leaving them on has its advantages. Other errors consist in using too much wrist movement : the so-called floppy wrist. If your wrist action is noticeable, then it is probably too much. The amount of wrist bending should be directly proportional to the amount of bow used, and the amount of sound collected. If too must wrist bending occurs then the adherence of the bow is lost, through an excessive and an undesired disturbing movement. Do not flap your wrist.

A flat bowing arm : Another important concept, particular to détaché is the placing of the elbow. The height of the elbow must be neither too low nor too high. Indeed it all depends on which string we are playing, but it has been said that the correct height ( vertical height ) of the elbow is attained when the best, and most easily generated quality sound occurs on that given string. Indeed the whole arm would appear quite flat, on the same horizontal plane, when bowing on the D string. The wrist must not stick up ( especially at the heel ). The elbow must not stick up, nor the shoulders. Neither should the hand stick up ( caused by a very low elbow ). The whole arm ( including hand and wrist ) should be on a flat, horizontal plane when bowing on the G or D string. When bowing on the G string it is important to incline the violin in such a way, so that the inclination is increased, and the G string is placed in a more comfortable position, closer to the right hand. On the A and E strings the violin may be flattened, therefore avoiding a vertical bow stroke, but maintaining a horizontal one. This flat position allows for a vertical contribution of gravity and bow weight ( important during Spiccato ).

Above : The wrist bends vertically. This quantity of bend has been exaggerated to make the movement clear. In practice only a very small fraction of this movement is used. On the left we have a reserve of sound, which is gradually expended by moving the wrist into the string, during the down bow, in order to adhere. At the end of the down bow one would end up with a lower wrist ( as on the photo on the right ). Please note this photo has greatly magnified the amount of bend one would use in practice. Also, it is sometimes very sensible never to expend all the vertical height, in order to have available an extra dosage of "string adhering mechanism" should it be needed. The photo on the left is the equivalent of having your lungs filled with air.

Flexibility : Eventually I plan to expand and illustrate this article with pictures. A movie file would be just great - ( though I don't know how to do that ! ) Right now, even though the attainment and mastery of this delicate and enormous subject seems impossible, it seems imperative that you lighten the bowing, and lighten the bow grip especially for this purpose. If you notice your fingers immobile, keeping the same shape throughout a détaché ( 1 note ) stroke, then they are locked. In this case your right hand will look like porcelain, and not like some moldable and flexible fleshy hand. If your right hand is fixed in this way, you need to work on altering its shape in a flexible and "melting" manner. If your wrist is not bending at each stroke, then there is another locked component. If you are using your upper arm, then the elbow is not opening and closing, and if you tire after 5 lines then you are also using your right arm in an incorrect and unbalanced way.

A slow change : This technique for sound generation is something that is perfected and improved gradually. Aches and pains sometimes mean the wrist is being used for the first time, but the correct tension and pliability of the muscles will ensure a healthy and enduring détaché mechanism. A combination of knowledge and observing a demonstration of this right hand technology will eventually lead to greater understanding and mastery of this delicate subject. If muscles are not used well they will rebel and ache. Sound will become hard, brittle, and muddy.

Focus your energy : There can be little doubt that right hand technique such as what has been described above makes all the difference in quality between a good and a bad player. Certainly there are many people that struggle, force and contort their muscles through determination and stubbornness to reach the end of the etude, but this rarely is comfortable and pleasing for both performer and listener. The attainment of a superior quality sound goes far beyond the simple study of the notes, or the understanding of which fingering to apply. The correct and successful conjuring of a good tone involves channeling and focusing one's energy and "tension" ( for there is no such thing as NO tension in playing - otherwise we would all be lying down on the floor ! ) into sound. Much energy of the bow on the string is lost as heat, and even more energy is lost in negative, or useless tension.

High quality sound : I hope to have enlightened readers on this little understood and underestimated subject. But I fear that an understanding is neither easy nor readily attainable in a short time. Complete mastery of détaché is still somewhat more complex than the summary outlined here, and it has to be done in the flesh. However I would state that the information an insight contained in the above essay does exceed the efforts and understanding of the "average" violin, viola, or cello teacher. Some things like the point of bow on string contact have not been completely explained : the weightier and slower bowings are best played near the bridge, while fast, light strokes would not adhere at the bridge, only close to the fingerboard. The 3 external objective) elements that make up tone are bow speed ( s ), weight or pressure ( w ) and point of contact ( p ). Combinations of s, w and p are many and varied, but their "internal" equivalents on how the muscles feel and perceive them have almost never been described in violin literature. Oddly, Piano literature deals with the external elements, and to a lesser degree internal elements more thoroughly than violin literature. There are many differing schools on this internal aspect, but the end result is always the production of extremely high quality sound. One may easily judge the quality of a soloist by their tone. A pianist will caress and conjure a singing phrase - a violinist will have a small velvety and rounded even tone. Pianists who have sharp, percussive, and jerky, abrupt chords are lacking in touch and warmth.

Comparing bowing to a wind instrument : The production of tone in string playing can be likened to the blowing of a trumpet. A steady flow of air must be constantly dosage. The flow must be controlled and even in pressure. A clever way of gaining insight into the production of tone is to listen to great Russian Sopranos. Where the sound and tension is and isn't applied, during their melodious arias gives musical insight in how to and when it is beautiful to apply more or less pressure or concentration of sound. The ultimate goal is to produce a spectacularly flowing phrase which leads us into listening to something which speaks and communicates direction, and expressiveness. A détaché study is not made up of equal notes to be played like a machine gun. Phrases finished and must be tapered off, and phrases build and lead forward, meaning that a constant application of tension and control in volume is necessary to bring out the natural shape of the phrase.

Sustain the notes : Lastly it must be understood that a note must be played ( sung ) throughout its duration. Unlike a pianoforte, we have to "hold" ( or sing ) a note for it's entire duration. The connecting of successive notes, and the soldering of sound during a down bow and its successive up bow are vital in a good détaché. The result should be a continuous flowing of sound. Always practice some right hand on an open D string. Try to produce 5 détaché notes which sound so similar to a single note held for that length of time. A passage played with good détaché should sound as if it has been played legato : all the notes perfectly joined together - no gaps in between, to produce a "lake" of constant sound.

Yet to be explained : Thumb movements and finger movements - These naturally extend and straighten out as we near the tip of the bow ( if one were to produce a hollow, frictionless and not concentrated or watery sound ) - however, the resistance "rule" compels us to nullify this tendency, almost bending the fingers instead. The sensation is of bending, but I cannot tell if the fingers are bending or straightening out on the down bow. I suspect they are extending on the down, but my sensation of retaining and holding the sound makes me feel I am opposing ( therefore bending ) this movement. The important point to remember is that these are sensations / and are not 100% accurate from an objective point of view. Also, if one were to measure all the forces exerted objectively, with scientific instruments, one would have accurate measurements , but no inward feel of the sensations and feelings involved. ( which are somewhat more colourful and passionate. ) Finally, I therefore guarantee my principles ( not mine actually - the St.Petersburg school's and Mr. M.Vaimann's ! ) from a subjective point of view, even though objectively one could conveivably fault the description or quantification of a movement. ( THOUGH I DOUBT IT !! ). Any mistakes or misleading descriptions in this essay will be modified and clarified according to feedback.



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Last modified: February 07, 2000